Autumn on Lake Thoreau

Autumn on Lake Thoreau

Friday, October 24, 2014

We wonder if Boston Properties ever thought about this for Reston Town Center?

At the last meeting of the Reston Master Plan Phase 1 Task Force, Boston Properties' representative on the task force, Peter Otteni offered an amendment to the draft plan changing the parks language for the transit station areas from requiring twenty percent open space to establishing twenty percent open space as a goal.  In human-speak, a County planning "goal" means, "yeah, yeah, whatever"--that is, nothing.  The developer and developer attorney dominated task force approved the the amendment; RCA voted against it.

Now we learn this:
Open spaces in urban areas not only improve communities but can add billions of dollars to adjacent commercial real estate properties, agreed panelists at the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Fall Meeting, being held this week at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. . .
According to the Trust for Public Land’s annual survey of 100 U.S. parks, Harnik noted, cities are being “brought back from the brink,” in some cases, or pushing forward economically due to parks development, including Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle and Denver.  . .
(Peter) Harnik (Director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence) cited six benefits for property owners derived from investing in parks development:
  1. Reduction in air pollution, water pollution and flooding
  2. Direct use by local residents, who are able to participate in no-cost or low-cost in activities
  3. Improved health for the local populace
  4. Increased tourism (for instance, Central Park’s exhibit of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates  drew 2.8 million people during February 2005)
  5. Increased property values, in turn bringing higher property taxes
  6. Elevated office rents in adjacent properties. . . .
While Reston Town Center has so far been relatively resilient in the face of the office market recession in Fairfax County, Reston's other station areas continue to suffer.

Maybe it's time to re-think the language in the Reston Master Plan for its station areas.  Everyone--developers, tenants, residents, the County, shoppers, and more--would benefit from being assured that at least one-fifth of the available space in these areas would be open space.   Moreover, it would significantly reduce the huge deficit currently planned in parks and athletic facilities in Reston's transit station areas.   

RA looking at possibility of annual assessments based on property values.

We know that most of you don't read RA News, RA's weekly e-mail newsletter.  Indeed, even though we receive it, we rarely look beyond the headlines.  And it took an alert Reston reader to bring to our attention this one-liner under the topic "Sustainability and Community Viability" on p.4 of the CEO's report in this week's newsletter identified as an RA Board goal :

"--Examine the Association’s flat rate assessment structure with an eye toward moving to one based on property values."
We don't know anymore than that, and it is likely the RA Board doesn't know much more than that.  Moreover, we haven't assessed the implications of such a move on our own, so we don't have a perspective on the topic at this time.  In general, of course, those Restonians with higher-valued properties--largely single-family homes--would pay higher annual dues than those with lower-valued homes.  Moreover, we have no idea how this would affect rental properties, including affordable housing units in the community. 

But you need to know and understand what your RA Board is considering.  

Does Loudoun's broken development apply in Fairfax County? Quite likely.

James Bacon, Bacon's Rebellion, writes that Loudoun County has a broken development model largely dependent on a growing commercial office market that is just not going to reach there.  Here is some of what he has to say:
Office workers need less space than they once did. Over the years businesses’ space needs per office employee have shrunk from approximately 250 square feet to less than 190 square feet, says Ben Keddie, vice president of Coldwell Banker Commercial Elite, as quoted in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Office space is expensive, and businesses have learned how to function with less of it. With the rise of the mobile workforce, open work spaces and office hoteling, it is easier than ever to conserve space and rein in lease and rental costs.
That trend has dramatic, if unappreciated, consequences for local governments’ real estate tax base and the management of growth and development. If businesses need less office space per employee, they need less office space overall. Which means the cost of office space drops. Which means developers build fewer new office buildings. Which means local governments are finding it harder and harder to grow their tax base.
Loudoun County in Northern Virginia, it appears, is facing that very problem. “A softening commercial office market has made it difficult for developers to make money on their commercial land, because there are fewer companies interested in large parcels,” reports the Loudoun Times. Indeed, it might be said that outlying counties in the Washington metropolitan region are facing a trifecta of troubles regarding commercial real estate: (1) business enterprises are shrinking their office footprints everywhere; (2) sequestration-related budget cuts have dampened demand even more in the Washington region; and (3) when Washington-area businesses do seek new digs, they show strong preferences for walkable urbanism, a higher-density, mixed use pattern of development that accommodates walking, biking and mass transit. Walkable urbanism is found mainly in the region’s urban core and along Metro lines, not in low-density burbs like Loudoun.
Not surprisingly, Loudoun’s supervisors appear to be adrift in dealing with these trends. . . .
And so too does the Fairfax County's Board of Supervisors.  Even with the Silver Line extending through Tysons and Reston to Dulles Airport and beyond in the future, commercial office space vacancies remain near all-time highs in both Tysons and Reston.

Already the Board has had to shift a growing share of the burden of property taxes to residential owners because the commercial office market is simply not growing.  And, as the office market continues to stagnate, residential property values will also stagnate (if not decline) in the face of a lack of employment growth and property tax rates as well as actual property tax bills will need to go up to feed the County spending beast.  This image from Bacon's post pretty much says it all:

If housing stock like this Loudoun County beauty can’t cover its costs in infrastructure and services, the local governance model is badly broken.

We have pointed out multiple times to the Board why its expectations of massive commercial development at Tysons and Reston were unlikely to occur, highlighting the downsizing of office space per worker.  (The County's response:  Houston has 300 square feet of office space per worker.  Houston?!?!  Oh yeah, that's where Exxon moved its corporate headquarters to from Fairfax County.  If you want to see what we wrote, search "office space per worker" on this blog.)  And now Fairfax County is facing a decline in employment, especially in its high-value professional and business workforce focused largely on serving federal government needs, as Congress continues to prove it is incapable of governing the country--sequestrations, budget cuts, shutdowns, you name it.  And, of course, the County is not now and will be among the last to develop "walkable urbanism" like Arlington County in the face of reduced demand for the office space serving urban-style development.  Washington, DC, Arlington, and other close-in jurisdictions will be the beneficiaries of office space shrinkage, not Fairfax County--much less Loudoun.

Fairfax County's economic growth policy is based on the hopium of endless regional growth, and is bound to fail, possibly sooner than later.  

And please read all of Bacon's post here.

Library advocates to meet tomorrow in Oakton at 11:30AM.

Dear Fellow Fairfax Library Advocate:

It has been exactly a month since we met at the Tysons-Pimmit branch and a group of us decided to take a more activist approach to saving our libraries. Sadly, as you are probably aware, recent news has not been all that good - 21 staff positions slated for elimination, further cuts proposed, no action yet on the Federation's call for fiscal assurances that County and the Friends' funds are being appropriately used and the continued diminution of the system's book inventory.

A lot will be happening between now and the end of the year and it is incumbent of us to see that our voice is heard. I propose we get together at 11:30 am, Saturday, October 25 at Oakton Library, 10304 Lynnhaven Pl, Oakton, VA 22124 to discuss a plan of action. Please let me know if you can attend. If there are other individuals who you believe could add to our efforts, by all means bring them along.

Between now and then please also think about how we can craft a focused message that will encompass all the various issues before us.

Best regards, Dennis

Dennis Hays

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Restonian: We're #10, Again! Yet Another List Places Reston Among Fastest-Growing Cities in Virginia

The Restonian continues to dig into data-driven details about the wonderfulness of Reston, and now comes up with this!
Look out Merrifield, Kingstown, Waynesboro, Short Pump, and Marumsco (wherever that is) -- Reston is on the move!  In yet another one of the listicles that are akin to catnip for "web loggers," some website ranked Reston as the tenth-fastest-growing city in Virginia. Despite all its awesome, Tysons only ranked 15th. Excelsior! . . .

Click here to read the rest of this.  We have nothing to add and, as Restonian would say:  The end.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

RCA article and letter on Lake Anne Fellowship House redevelopment

The following is cross-posted from the Reston Citizens Association blog. 


RCA feels it is urgent that the greater Reston community understands the implications of development on one of our Reston Comprehensive Plan ten Planning Principles which is “housing provided for all ages and incomes.”[1] Our community support is needed to ensure that land owners and potential developers respect and honor our Plan.
Who Lives at Lake Anne Fellowship House (LAFH): Folks 62 or older on limited fixed incomes and those of any age with a qualifying disability and income. A good description is at

Who owns it: Fellowship Square Foundation (FSF), a non-profit provider of affordable housing for the elderly and disabled in the DC metropolitan area. They own and operate LAFH, Reston’s Hunters Woods Fellowship House and two others.
The FSF website does not currently post a mission statement, but we find this on page 5 of their 2013 annual report:
“We specialize in financially fragile residents. We celebrate that we make a difference in their lives and the life of the community they live in.”
The original purpose of the Foundation according to its founder Dr. John Scherzer, told to the RCA on March 13, 1970:
“The purpose of the Foundation as set forth in our Charter is to sponsor adequate retirement facilities for lower and middle income people who must depend for their livelihood upon the fixed income from civil service retirement and/or Social Security.”[2]
How LAFH Came to Be: In 1970, FSF purchased the land that LAFH sits on for $138,000. On this property at the corner of North Shore Drive and Village Road two adjoining buildings were built with HUD and VHDA[3] loans.
What LAFH is not: It is not an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. Although it is not ADA compliant by current standards, LAFH remains accessible for the majority of current and potential residents. As the founder of FSF said in the briefing to the RCA in 1970: “All our plans have been focused upon the features of comfort and convenience for people . . . who are active, self-sufficient and independent.”[4] LAFH today still fulfills this need.
Why should you care? Because this could be you, your sibling, parent, best friend. Medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy[5] in the United States. Retirement planning can quickly go awry and one can be left with little more than Social Security income to live on. Let our Fairfax County staff and government know that you support the Reston Comprehensive Planning Principle for “housing provided for all ages and incomes.”
Know someone who might want to live there? Get on the waiting list now. When you call or stop by, do not be deterred if told “no vacancies.” This is what RCA Board member Connie Hartke was told. Sources indicate there are approximately 30 of the 124 “market rate” apartments vacant.[6]  When Connie pressed that she was inquiring for a market rate (unsubsidized) apartment (monthly rental of $483 - $803), she was told there is a 4-5 month waiting list. One apartment that has been vacant for over 10 years was just rented. It seems the waiting list might move along if more of the vacant apartments are made available.
Several of us in the Reston Citizens Association (RCA) have friends who live at Lake Anne Fellowship House (LAFH) and we have visited the buildings and their apartments. What we find is comfortable, clean and quite adequate for many.
What does the future hold for LAFH? RCA will be following developments closely since we believe that just as in 1970, Reston still cherishes the “proposal to make the limited-income elderly a planned part of the social structure of the new community envisioned by Mr. Simon . . .”[7]
When FSF teamed with a developer not experienced in the affordable housing market, residents were frightened. They wrote a letter to FSF which has been signed by 183 (71 percent) of the residents. [8] They are a community, and they are part of our Reston community.
Follow us on and subscribe to our newsletter at We’ll keep you informed.

[1] Staff, DPZ. WorkingDraft (Strawman) of Reston Master Plan (n.d.): n. page 11 in print, page 14 online. Web.
[2] Erickson, Jack. A Mission to Serve: The Life of John A. Scherzer and the Birth of Fellowship Square Foundation. Reston, VA: RedBrick, 1989. 54. Print.
[3] VHDA = Virginia Housing Development Authority. This mortgage will be paid off in 2016. At that time, the current rental assistance program can be converted to Section 8 assistance.
[4] Erickson, Jack. A Mission to Serve: The Life of John A. Scherzer and the Birth of Fellowship Square Foundation. Reston, VA: RedBrick, 1989. 54. Print.
[5] LaMontagne, Christina. "Medical Bankruptcy Accounts for Majority of Personal Bankruptcies" NerdWallet Health, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.
[6] FSF 2013Annual Report, pages 17 and 19
[7] Erickson, Jack. A Mission to Serve: The Life of John A. Scherzer and the Birth of Fellowship Square Foundation. Reston, VA: RedBrick, 1989. 58. Print.

11450 North Shore Drive
Reston, Virginia 20190
An Open Letter to the President of Fellowship Square Foundation
July 10, 2014
Mr. Charles Wortman
Fellowship Square Foundation, Inc.
250 Exchange Place, Suite G
Herndon, VA  20170
Dear Mr. Wortman:
The sudden disclosure that rent subsidies for 87 residents of Building 2 of Lake Anne Fellowship House will end in September 2016, followed by the priority relocation of all Building 1 residents – ahead of those in Building 2 – to the new building planned for the corner of our property is shocking, outrageous, discriminatory, possibly illegal – and certainly unfair.
This makes a mockery of the long-proclaimed mission of Fellowship Square to care for the most disadvantaged among us.  Many in Building 2 have been active and productive members of this community for several years.  We have come here for very personal reasons and to be close to our families. To be cast adrift at this point in our lives is unconscionable.  We will suffer extreme anguish and hardship as we struggle to survive.
We, the undersigned, living in both Buildings 1 and 2, now call on you and Fellowship Square to take immediate action to reverse and revise the unjust provisions related to the Lake Anne Fellowship House Redevelopment Plan that will substantially reduce our resident population – by nearly one half – in favor of outside financial interests and planned development in other parts of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Specifically, we demand that you expand the size and scope of your new Fellowship House building to accommodate ALL of our residents, as our present homes disappear.
Only then can the Rev. Dr. John Scherzer rest in peace.
(signed by 183 residents as of 10/10/2014)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Draft Reston Master Plan Language for the Village Centers

Below is the draft language for Reston's Village Centers put together by DPZ for consideration at a Reston Community Meeting, this Saturday, October 18, 2014, at 8:45AM, in the South Lakes High School cafeteria.  WE STRONGLY ENCOURAGE ALL RESTONIANS TO COME AND PARTICIPATE.  We look forward to seeing you Saturday morning!